Researching The Russian Tapestry – Marie Kulbas

Although Marie survived Alexei by almost forty years, we know even less about her life in Russia than we do of Alexei. Originally from the Northern port of Narva, Marie was the only daughter of a wealthy Estonian merchant. She had three brothers, of whom she was closest to Nikolai. Sadly, no photos of the Kulbas family have survived. In fact aside from the one photograph, there are no photos of Marie before coming to Australia.


Schooled in private and later, boarding colleges in Estonia and Switzerland, Marie was fluent in five languages. At the time of the Russian revolution, she was in her final year of studying law at St Petersburg and had planned to join the district court in Tallinn at the completion of her studies. Unfortunately, as fate has it, she was forced to abandon her studies with six months to graduation due to the war.

During the Great War, Marie had her share of suffering. Engaged before the war, her fiancé went missing and though she waited for him, she never learned what became of him. It surprises me, that although this young man was at one stage so important to Marie, no one had thought to ask more about him. We don’t know anything about his features, his background or even his name. When writing The Russian Tapestry, I had to imagine what Pyotr (my fictional name for the fiancé) was like, how the couple had met, and what ultimately became of him. I feel a sense of satisfaction, that by writing Pyotr and offering an explanation to what happened to him, I have put his ghost to rest.

In spring 1918, the Germans invaded Estonia following a breakdown in the armistice between the Soviet and German armies. Between March and November Marie and her family lived under the German occupation. She spoke later about this period as a time of great hardship with the army pillaging most of the food supply. It was also during this period that she lost her two eldest brothers, including her beloved Nikolai. The German Army was eventually pushed back only to be replaced by a more brutal Soviet Red Army.

Marie and Alexei with their sons, George, Igor, and Oleg. Tamora, NSW

In The Russian Tapestry, I have Marie and Alexei meeting at the start of the war (This was purely for story-telling purposes as it did not make sense to have them meet at the conclusion of the book). In reality, they met during the civil war which followed WWI. The couple met in Tallinn where Marie was working in the district court. Alexei having escaped the Red Army, had also moved to the capital of Estonia. With the Soviet army inching closer, they decided to flee Estonia and make their way to Australia where Alexei’s eldest daughter, Irene lived with her husband.

Having so little to go by – no photos, diaries or documents of Marie from Russia – I decided to draw from the great Russian classics when writing Marie’s character. I imagined her as an intelligent, outspoken young woman with a strong spirit that comes through at times of adversity. At the start of The Russian Tapestry, Marie is at the cusp of joining the St Petersburg society. There are close comparisons between Marie and Natasha Rostova in Tolstoy’s War & Peace in their naivety and youthful enthusiasm. Later with the start of the war, and later still, under the German occupation, she demonstrates resilience and strength of character reminiscent of Lara from Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago.

Marie and Alexei passed away long before I joined the family, taking with them most of their history and memories. As a long-time lover of Russian classics, I was mesmerized by their story. The romance of the period and the tragedy of the war beckoned me to write this epic tale. It was a labour of love,  one that I enjoyed at every step. Although I would have written The Russian Tapestry regardless, it’s been rewarding to have it published and to receive such positive feedback from readers.

Display of The Russian Tapestry at Your Bookshop, Bankstown

For that, I’m truly thankful.

I only wish Marie and Alexei were alive to see their life celebrated.

What did you think? Have you researched your family history? What did you discover? If interested in researching your family history, check out My 3 Tips on Researching Family History by Carol Baxtor.

I love to hear your thoughts. Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

The Russian Tapestry is available in ebook from the following outlets:

Hachette Australia, Booktopia, Amazon

If interested to learn more about writing, check out my Top 3 Tips blogs. In 2017 and 2018 I interviewed prominent personalities in the Australian literary world and asked their Top 3 Tips in their area of expertise. A must-read for writers and book lovers alike.

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